Pre-independence history

Uganda was first “discovered” by Speke and other European explorers in the 1860s. The first Christian missionaries entered Uganda in 1877. Some of the earliest converts were young page boys in the Kabaka’s court (King of Buganda), many of whom were martyred for their faith between 1885-1886 at Namugongo, just outside Kampala (and are still commemorated in the world-wide Anglican and Catholic Churches on 3rd June every year).

Unlike most African countries, Uganda was a Protectorate, never a British Colony, which meant that the British could not buy and settle the land, as they did in so many other parts of Africa. There is therefore a very happy relationship between Ugandans and British people.

However, European governments drew and re-drew national boundaries in Africa for their own gain and political reasons, and used certain tribes to subdue others, which still has sad repercussions. The policies of the British caused some tensions and prejudices to develop between the two main ethnic groups (Nilo-Hamitic and Bantu) of Uganda. There have also been problems at all the national borders, the best known being due to civil wars in South Sudan, the DRC and Rwanda.



Uganda became independent in 1962 and Mutesa (the Kabaka/King of Buganda) was the first President, with Milton Obote as Prime Minister until Obote took over as President in 1966. Multi-party politics increasingly caused problems as parties tended to be aligned to religious (Catholic and Anglican) and ethnic groups.

The situation really began to deteriorate from 1966, with increasing disregard for human rights. The infamous Idi Amin took power in 1971, in a coup which was supported by Britain who wanted to get rid of Obote. Hundreds of thousands were brutally murdered in the next eight years.

In a bid to gain popularity, Amin threw out all the Asians (including many who were Ugandan citizens) during three months in 1972. Most settled in the UK, but also in Canada and other countries.

It was during Amin’s regime that Archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered. He is commemorated by the Anglican Church on 17th February and was one of the 20th Century martyrs sculpted on the west front of Westminster Abbey in 1998.

Amin was overthrown in 1979. There were three short-lived Presidential terms in the next eighteen months before Obote regained power in 1980, but, unknown to many in in the West, his second regime (known as Obote II) was even more brutal than Amin’s and resulted in a higher death toll.

During these twenty years (1966-1986), estimates put the number killed at about one million. Hundreds of thousands fled as refugees, many of whom have never returned. The economy, infrastructure and civil society were destroyed. Some tribal groups suffered at the hands of others, fortunes were overturned and there were many revenge killings.


President Yoweri Museveni

Obote was overthrown in 1985 and there followed two brief presidencies before Museveni, who led the National Resistance Movement and Army (NRM and NRA), overthrew Okello in a relatively ‘bloodless’ coup in 1986. Museveni’s army was better disciplined and he managed to repress the cycle of revenge killings. For the first time for about twenty years, there was relative peace and stability throughout much of Uganda.

Museveni had the hard task of starting to rebuild the country, whilst the rest of the world had moved on. Most main roads have now been superficially tarmacked again and main towns have electricity again (at least on most days). Yoweri Museveni has now been President of the Republic of Uganda since 1986. Presidential and Parliamentary Elections are held every five years, the last one being in 2016.

Uganda is a stable and safe country to visit, unlike many other African countries at the moment, and Ugandans are very friendly and welcoming.

Margaret Stevens